Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thinkng About David Ward-Steinman: Nadia Boulanger and the French Connection

Dr. David Ward-Steinman and Nadia Boulanger Photo: Al Fenn.

Composing music is an interesting process, so many combinations of sounds and silence. Today's twenty-first century sonic landscape is replete with pre-packaged(sampled) as well as real time natural and artificial sound. Choices are extensive. Through the empathetic ears of a gifted producer and sound equiptment, our music receives its first filtering interpretation.

Contemporary composers' mental roadmap(musical score/soundscape) is often assisted by producers who work many hours to shape the completed sound.  These full recorded works of collaborative creative expression are splashed onto the surface of our daily-real sonic wash, usually through the additional filter of earphones. It's a sonic moulding process of infinitessimal moments.The composer's roadmap is removed behind several layers. I enjoy this type of recording, however, I often prefer the raw, good and bad of non- filtered live concert performance.  

My first roadmap has long since been discarded with several barrels of collected scrap papers from junior and senior high school cleaned out of my parent's house before the turn of the twenty-first century. The piano solo was never performed outside of my immediate family circle. It was an innocent's work of frustration and yet hope. Tired of the conflict raging in the sixties, I prayed through music that disrupted, war scarred, riot torn, young people's lives in American homes would somehow . . .be healed.

The same theme surfaced a few decades later in a New Music Ensemble class at SDSU. The teacher, world renown composer David Ward Steinman (now adjunct professor of music at Indiana University-Bloomington) witnessed the turmoil and understood my shadow memory angst. I did not take his advice lightly. The piece became "Urban Anguish," my pain-grieving reaction to the shooting of a young African American San Diego youth killed while celebrarting his graduation from high school and acceptance into a prestigious college. The San Diego State New Music Ensmeble  performed it live in Mexico and here at a couple of local colleges.

Dr. Ward-Steinman's website tells a modest tale:
Admittedly, it does not show the gentle musical giant who took moments out of his day to mentor and nurture my interior compositional backdrop. He taught me to listen, listen as musicians should to inner sounds, to work through, wrestle with form, music theory, melodic ideas. (Or as he often said, "Let the material percolate.") He encouraged me to write musical scores--and oh how painful it was to do pen and ink caligraphy on non-erasable manuscript paper without correcting whiteout of similar shade. However, ideas were more managable once written down.  And yet, he emphasized the value of memorization and improvisation. I always wanted to ask . .. How much music do you carry around inside?????  Now I realize that the music is written out . . .but the substance of pen and ink are unseen.

Dr. Ward-Steinman also taught me to edit. Perhaps that's why I appreciate studio recording. "Sometimes a trip to the circular file is a good idea." One day, while I was an undergraduate, a set of  curiously brief paragraphs about a brilliant French woman in a music history text came alive:  David Ward Steinman began sharing a few anecdotes about life as a student with Nadia Boulanger. She was a master teacher. He learned the art of editing and nurturing seeds of musical ideas to full bloom from many mentors, including the legendary Nadia Boulanger:

He also learned from professor Boulanger how to nurture students with quirky, whimsical compositional aesthetics, to provide the parameters of traditional music theory and a musical space for  non-traditional experimental creativity.

I continue to ponder Nadia Boulanger's global contributions to Quincy Jones and so many others (although I have never met him, his work is another compositional influence in my life. ) Today, however, I am thinking of a teacher/mentor with whom I interacted form several years, whose patience and wealth of knowledge was shared graciously, Dr. Ward Steinman . . . .and the heartlight of pedagogic legacy.
                                           ANDITE: Composer Delores Fisher
                                            SDSU NEW MUSIC ENSEMBLE 1998-1999

Here is a sample from one of my whimsical student compositions with the SDSU New Music Ensemble 1998-1999 under Dr. David Ward Steinman.

Delores Fisher

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